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Game Preview: San Antonio Spurs vs. Phoenix Suns

The Spurs look to avoid a season sweep against the league-leading Suns

NBA: Phoenix Suns at San Antonio Spurs Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

Winning is everything in sports, but some wins mean more than others. Both spectators and players assign differing degrees of value depending on the match-up and the narrative surrounding each contest depending on whether a game is home or away, postseason or regular season, and so on.

San Antonio’s last game came with a higher degree of emotional value, as the Spurs faced the departed DeMar DeRozan for the first time in a Chicago Bulls uniform. Likewise, this game against the Suns comes with a narrative of its own: avoiding the dreaded series sweep.

The good news is that the Spurs are coming into this contest off of a win against a good-but-injured Bulls team, that they’ve played the Suns closely twice this season (when fully healthy), and that the Suns will also enter the arena with some significant injuries of their own.

The bad news is that their last game against the Suns was not close, that the Spurs have struggled to take care of business against depleted teams this season, and that they’re 9-15 on the road. Oh, and they’ll be missing Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, and Jakob Poeltl.

The keys to a Spurs victory are pretty straightforward. They’ll need to contain Phoenix’s starting back-court duo, and take advantage of the Suns’ big man depth issues.

So far this season the Spurs have managed to do one or the other, but not both at the same time, thus the 0-3 record. (Similar front-court depth issues for San Antonio contributed to this significantly) But you can expect them to be fired up in this one as most teams and players tend to give extra effort to avoid an 0-4 blemish.

That being said, with the Spurs sitting their three best defenders in this one, it’s hard to know what to expect. Here’s hoping!

San Antonio Spurs at Phoenix Suns

January 30, 2022 | 7:00 PM CT

Watch: Bally Sports Southwest| Listen: WOAI (1200 AM)

Spurs Injuries: Keita Bates-Diop - Out (Health and Safety Protocols), Dejounte Murray - Out (Knee), Jakob Poelt - Out (Back), Derrick White - Out (Rest)

Suns Injuries: Dario Saric - Out (Knee), Frank Kaminsky - Out (Knee), Abdel Nader - Questionable (Knee), Cameron Payne - Out (Wrist), Deandre Ayton - Questionable (Ankle), Jae Crowder - Questionable (Wrist), JaVale McGee - Questionable (Knee)

What to watch for:

  • Keldon Johnson - Rifleman 2.0: Okay, it’s time to start taking Keldon Johnson’s long-distance shooting seriously. While many of us have waited for the other shoe to drop, the reality is that what initially looked like a hot streak has now become a half-season long trend. And while I recognize that it might feel like sacrilege to invoke the nickname of a three-point shooting Spurs legend, the reality is that Keldon has already made 84 three-pointers on 44% shooting (2nd in the league for qualified shooters), putting him on pace for one of the four or five best long-distance shooting seasons in franchise history.

Per the chart provided by my colleague Jesse Pittsley, Keldon is currently shooting greater than 10% above league average from behind the arc from nearly everywhere. Combine that with his playing time at small-forward, and you get a variation of Chuck Persons for the modern era; more physically bulldozing, less mouthy, but a consistent scoring threat nonetheless. I don’t know about this being Johnson’s ceiling as player, considering that he’s accomplishing it on the heels of a season in which he shot 33% from downtown. His youth (it’s easy to forget that he’s only 22) and consistent on-court improvements hint at developments that may still be yet to come, but if this is his ceiling, it’s not too shabby for a late first round pick.

Keldon Johnson 3pt HEAT Map

Professor Pittsley’s Primer: “Over the season, the Suns have the 2nd highest rated offense AND defense in the NBA and the former is led by their closing guard duo of Devin Booker and Chris Paul. Via Offensive Estimated Plus Minus (EPM) Booker is ranked the top shooting guard in the Western Conference and Paul is ranked 2nd amongst point guards in overall EPM. On the Spurs side, Derrick White is the 2nd highest rated shooting guard in the conference and Dejounte is the 7th highest rated guard IN THE LEAGUE via the respected all-in-metric LEBRON.”

Spurs vs Suns Primer

For the Suns’ fans’ perspective, visit Bright Side of the Sun.

PtR’s Game thread will be up this evening for those who want to chat through the game. You can also follow along with the action through PtR’s Twitter feed.